NEW ORLEANS Tuesday marks the 234th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. For the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are serving or who have served, it's about being part of 'the few, the proud, the marines.'
But, for the 11 men we are about to meet, being a marine assigned to guard the American Embassy in Rome 50 years ago is all about brotherhood.
It was a half century ago, and these 19 and 20 year olds came from across hometown America to the Eternal City. Their mission to guard the American Embassy during the Cold War, to keep state department personnel safe and classified information equally so.
Their very selection made them elite among marines. But it was the bond that was built during their tenure in Rome that followed them home.
Five decades have passed since the men served together, but thanks to Jack O'Neill, their 50-year reunion brings them to New Orleans to relive a pivotal time in all their lives.
'It's like we are still there as teenagers, and the stories just continue and the beauty is we have a collective memory now,' said one of men.
It wasn't just about the work. It was about living in the beauty of Rome.
'It opened my eyes to a whole new world. I was a shy child from New Mexico in the desert.'
And it was about the glamour of their special occasions, like the Marine Corps ball, which they paid for themselves. It became the biggest ticket in town, with actress Gina Lollobrigida serving as their queen.
'And Xavier Cugat was our band leader not bad for some guys from New Jersey.'
There were private parties at the marine house, where American athletes from the 1960 Rome Olympics were invited, like gold medalist Muhammad Ali.
And a couple of the guys even found the love of their lives there.
'I got to meet my wife. We got married over there. She was from Piedmont, Alabama. We got married on my 24th birthday.'
Heady times for guys who were only beginning their lives.
'Well, its been 50 years and we were all teenagers.'
'Went over there at 20 years old and grew up.'
And that echoed throughout their visit to the World War II museum. The discipline and the skills they learned 50 years ago that carried them for the rest of their lives.
'I figured I could do anything after that. I went back to college and made a career.'
'I flew 168 combat missions and got eight air medals and a distinguished flying cross.'
'I spent 35 years in the banking industry.'
Another spent a career in the FBI.
'Every one of them became successful in their second lives and we are so proud of every one of us.'
'There are others who aren't with us anymore, but they will always be in our hearts.'
'It's a brotherhood and you never leave them.'
A marine reunion wouldn't be complete without lunch at Mother's, home of walls of tributes to marines and where memories are swapped waiting in line.
Once a marine, always a marine. For each one of these men, serving their country in Rome was a life changing event.
For Jack O'Neill, joining the marines was a childhood dream.
'Besides marrying Leslie, that's probably the best thing that ever happened to me: the Marine Corps,' said O'Neil.
Each man knows why he joined and what it did for his life, but also for the greater good.